Friday, December 3, 2010


Ron Santo, the great Cubs' third baseman, who passed away yesterday at age 70, was a cantankerous bully during his playing days. It was probably a classic case of overcompensation. Driven by forces that he was unable to articulate, overworking himself in season after season in spite of (or, perhaps, due to) a diabetic condition initially kept hidden from the public, Santo more than any of his teammates epitomized the now-familiar shoulder-chip that the nation's former Second City has worn with a kind of forlorn panache over the past three-quarters of a century.

The "curse of the black cat" was something Ron Santo
could never quite shake...
It's probable that Santo's personality, forged from this crucible of interconnected contradiction, is the reason why he has remained on the outside looking in at Cooperstown. That has been one of the great ongoing blights on the Hall of Fame, and now that Santo is dead, there is much bitterness in the air. Some argue that it makes no sense to enshrine him now, since he won't be here to see it.

One can't disagree more. It is never too late to bestow honor. Santo's relatives, his friends, and his fans will be buoyed by his induction into the Hall. Many players have been inducted posthumously, and while it is a shame that each of them could not be present to receive their honors, there is nothing empty about the gesture, no matter how rotten the timing.

Gil Hodges, managerial artist
What we discover as we grow older (if not wiser) is that the imperfections of the world do not really allow for any utopian structures to exist in a cocoon-like state. The Hall of Fame is a seductive idea that appeals to the utopian in every baseball fan, no matter the nature and level of their involvement: it is far more seductive as an idea than it can ever be as an actual institution.

That isn't meant to absolve it, not by any means. Without a coherent set of induction policies, and with a leadership mostly disconnected from the precepts and practices of the historian, the Hall of Fame has floundered. Potential remedies to what has become a calcified and politicized "side door" induction process have been bungled, with the result that an increasing number of deserving players remain on the outside looking in.

Dick Allen, "conceptual artist"

A movement to rectify this situation--as opposed to achieving utopian reform for the almost-comically flawed Veterans Committee voting process--could certainly use Ron Santo as a rallying point.

But such a movement really ought to add in a slate of other overlooked players to demonstrate that the broken process needs a massive one-time correction. Along with Santo, candidates for such a "rectification slate" include Bob Caruthers, Gil Hodges, Dick Allen, and Bobby Grich.

Bobby Grich, defensive artist
Such an event at the Hall of Fame, while vulnerable to the usual "too little, too late" cavilry, would nevertheless be extremely significant. Honoring these five players at once would be a powerful statement about the possibility of historical correction, and it would signify the dawning of a new age for the Hall of Fame--an organization in more desperate need of plastic surgery than Humphrey Bogart in the old noir chestnut Dark Passage.

The largest, most inclusive Hall of Fame that is possible is really the only approach that can work in an imperfect world. If the anger and bitterness over Ron Santo being cheated out of his chance for public veneration is channeled into a larger effort, a rectifying event will have even more meaning, and just might produce some of the needed changes that so many of us have discussed for such a long, long time.